As we all know, the Bruins skated past the Maple Leafs by the hair on their chins with an unbelievable comeback win on Monday night. What may not have been quite as obvious or even quite as important at the time was how they were able to get it done. Obviously, they needed to be able to score two goals in less than two minutes, but there was a reason they were within striking distance – if you want to call it that.
Through six games, the B’ had been 3-0 with both Andrew Ference and Wade Redden in the lineup and were 0-3 without both of them in there. In Game 7, however, neither veteran was on the ice and it came down to two rookies – Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton – playing well enough to get the win. Bartkowski even chipped in with his first career NHL goal in the first period and with Dennis Seidenberg leaving the game very early on, they each played big minutes and logged a lot of ice time.
By no stretch of the imagination were either of these players amazing, but they did enough to help the team win. They combined for just three hits and one blocked shot as well as five shots on goal, but they minimized their mistakes. For Hamilton, especially, he was much better than he was in Game 2 and even late in the regular season, though he was on the ice for the second Toronto goal in Game 7. In Bartkowski’s case, he took advantage of his ice time from Game 5 nearly tripling to make an impact on the game both offensively and defensively.
With returns from Seidenberg, Ference and Redden not looking too likely before the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin Thursday, these two will obviously be counted on for a lot of mistake-free minutes again. Not that it matters, but on the final two Toronto goals in Game 7, mistakes were made by Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara – none of whom are rookies. Boychuk couldn’t seal of Phil Kessel for the rebound on the third goal and after Chara pinched up to allow a Leafs two-on-one, McQuaid was unable to get to Nazem Kadri quick enough to prevent him from putting home the rebound.
So, looking forward to the next series, a lot of the Bruins’ success will weigh on how well Hamilton and Bartkowski will be able to play. As I have said, they did all right in Game 7 when the team had just five defensemen left on the bench. Now, they have had two days to practice with Torey Krug, who is likely to go in Game 1 tonight, as well. This means new partners for almost everyone except Hamilton, who is fairly used to playing with Chara.
The key against the Rangers will be how well the makeshift defense of the Bruins stacks up against some of the tougher forwards in the league from New York. It’s not just Rick Nash, who was not even close to their most productive forward in the first round, but New York has more than a few forwards who can make plays and score goals. Sure, Chara may be on the ice for most of Nash’s shifts, and as we saw in Game 1 of the Kings-Sharks series, that can be effective, but there are other ways this team can beat you. The young defenders will have to step up since Chara cannot play 60 minutes a night.